Ciudad Ju__rez__s troubles reshape families

CIUDAD JU_REZ, Mexico _ Telma Pedro C__rdoba could have left this blood- and bullet-marked city when she lost her hus...

CIUDAD JU_REZ, Mexico _ Telma Pedro C__rdoba could have left this blood- and bullet-marked city when she lost her husband to a drive-by shooting in 2009, or when an injury kept her mother from factory work, or when gunmen killed a neighbor in front of a friend_s 3-year-old son a few months ago.

Instead, she has stayed. Her tiny one-bedroom home, decorated with carefully done red and silver stenciling, is shared with her mother, grandmother, sister, younger brother and two children. In local slang, unlike their neighbors whose abandoned homes are now stripped of even windows, they have become a _familia anclada,_ a family anchored to Ciudad Ju__rez.

Not long ago, the phrase hardly existed here in this city of overnight truck drivers and baby-faced factory workers from afar. But over the past several years, the forces of drug violence and recession have reshaped both the city_s character _ from loose and busy to tight-knit and cautious _ and its demographics.

Decades of growth have been replaced by exodus. The city has lost nearly 20 percent of its population in the past three years, or about 230,000 people, according to one academic estimate. And new government figures and interviews suggest that the men who once arrived in waves are departing in larger numbers than women.

The result is a city with more families like the Pedros: multigenerational, led by women and with several children under 14.

Demographers say the shift has accelerated in the past year not just in Chihuahua, the state where Ciudad Ju__rez is the biggest city. The proportion of women also grew last year in Tamaulipas, a state that is home to some of the most gruesome recent killings. There, and in Baja California, the state that includes Tijuana, the percentage of families with young children has also spiked, even as it has remained stable nationwide.

_It_s a combination of three things,_ said Carlos Galindo, a demographer and adviser to Mexico_s National Population Council. _It_s harder to find a job, migration across the desert is traditionally a thing that men do, and then there_s the violence_ driving many men to leave.

For Ciudad Ju__rez, the imbalance is not without precedent. In the 1970s and _80s, when electronics manufacturers started the factory, or maquiladora, boom, women flooded the labor market here for low-paying jobs requiring precise handiwork, outnumbering men by five to one on some assembly lines.

Men later followed, pulling equal with women in total population and at factories. Now, though, according to government labor surveys and private sector data, women seem to be edging back into the majority and increasing their presence at maquiladoras.

It is largely a measure of perseverance, not prosperity. In interviews across this sprawling city, women described male departures, or deaths, and a life of adaptation for the families that remained.

Brenda Noriega, 31, lives in the city_s northwestern corner, on a dirt road that abuts the fence separating Ciudad Ju__rez from El Paso, Tex. On a recent morning, she needed both hands to count the men in her family who had returned to Durango, their home state. _Eight,_ she said finally, sitting outside her small blue house with her two children, ages 12 and 13. _Eight uncles and grandfathers have gone in the past year._

Her husband still has a job, a circumstance that explained why they stayed, she said. Indeed, for many families, work or the lack of it has been as much of a motivator for migration as violence.

The global recession has pummeled this place. From 2008 to the middle of last year, the city_s maquiladoras cut 30 percent of their work force, or about 72,000 jobs.

Some of those positions are returning. Jos__ L. Armend__riz Bail__n, president of the local maquiladora association, said 20 of the largest factories were rehiring. But unemployment in the city, at 7 percent, still remains above the official national rate of about 5 percent, though either figure would be envied in the United States, and some economists contend that the Mexican average is actually higher than reported.

Either way, it remains far above what longtime residents like Ms. Pedro associate with the city. When she came to Ciudad Ju__rez 14 years ago from Oaxaca State, work was as common as dust. _All you had to do was walk down the street, and there_d be a job,_ she said. _Walk a little farther and there_d be another job._

Ms. Pedro, who is 30, met her husband in 1999, at the factory where they both worked. He was a security guard with light skin and broad shoulders. She was cute, calm and quick to giggle. In pictures, he towers over her, holding her close, with a smile as playful as her own.

They married quickly and had two children: Lizette, 10, and Jes__s, 8. When they moved into a growing neighborhood to the south six years ago _ with street names like Democracy and Patriotism _ they left their doors unlocked, she said, and rarely worried about the children.

Those memories help keep her here when she thinks of her husband, shot dead in a car with fellow employees on his way home from work, or when she hears the gun battles that frequently punctuate the desert nights. Like many women at the head of familias ancladas, she said she believed that the current horrific period was an anomaly that would pass.

Prof. Mar__a del Socorro Vel__zquez Vargas, a sociologist at the Autonomous University of Ciudad Ju__rez, said some residents were also finding rays of hope in the present. Citing a rise in optimism in the university_s most recent local survey from January, she said people had been encouraged by a newfound unity among neighbors.

_People don_t have faith in government,_ Professor Vel__zquez said, during a week when the federal police shot and killed two unarmed residents in a botched raid. _They have faith in their neighbors._

Elected officials are investing in the kinds of social hubs long described as a necessary antidote to gangs. A candy-colored children_s museum is about to open in the main park here. Government crime statistics published in the past week show that homicides in the city fell to 98 in January, down from 166 in December and the record highs of more than 300 in October and August.

But in a city known for loose connections, what little faith there is seems to be springing from the residents_ own self-reliance: the five boulders that block an entrance to one neighborhood; the additional guard dogs bought communally by another; the bodega owners in several areas who have stayed open by disguising their stores, hiding them from extortionists by painting them white to look like houses.

Then there is the activism, often led by women, that has become increasingly creative. One group of women can be seen riding pink motorcycles into poor neighborhoods to offer assistance every Sunday.

Still, adaptation also comes in more ominous forms. There is little doubt that residents living through such carnage _ with about 7,000 killed here since 2008 _ are growing accustomed to blood and gore.

Crime scenes are a regular part of daily life, and so is indifference. In one recent instance, children giggled just yards from a man stabbed and left dead in a dusty alley. A day earlier, in a supermarket parking lot near a shootout that left three people dead, shoppers glanced toward the yellow police tape, then moved on as if it were a fender bender.

_I don_t think it_s strength,_ said Celia Faong, 40, as she placed groceries in the back of her dented gold Chevy, near her 3-year-old son. _It_s necessity._

She, too, is the head of a familia anclada. After her husband was killed seven months ago, she said, she stayed in Ciudad Ju__rez rather than return to Durango, just to the south of Chihuahua, because the laundry service she ran from home supported her children and her extended family.

It was a common Ju__rez story, of responsibility and economics trumping danger. Mexican men are expected to keep moving to improve their circumstances, said Mr. Galindo, the demographer, but for women, home life is knottier and harder to transport.

People like Ms. Faong and Ms. Pedro plan to stay. Even though, in Mrs. Pedro_s case, it means guarding her children with a fence of discarded wooden pallets, in a hollowed-out neighborhood where a blue plane filled with federal police officers can often be seen landing in the distance, ready to make war.

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